The European Union is adding clauses to contracts with COVID-19 vaccine makers which would allow the bloc to gain access to possible upgraded shots that may offer better protection against variants of the virus, three EU sources said.
More contagious mutations are spreading fast in the EU and across the world, with the so-called British variant seen by experts as likely to become prevalent on the continent.
In new contracts with vaccine manufacturers, the EU is adding clauses that explicitly cover variants, three EU officials involved in talks with the companies told Reuters.
Vaccine makers are testing their shots against variants and are also working on tweaks that could make them more effective against virus mutations.
One official said the clauses would allow the EU not to buy vaccines that are not effective against widespread variants, and to order upgraded versions instead. However, the source said clauses were vague on the definition of variants and the actual legal power they would give the EU.
The three officials said that an anti-variant clause was included in a second contract finalised earlier in February with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of 300 million additional doses of their COVID-19 vaccine.
Pfizer and the European Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.